99 BIG Franchisees: Alice J. Schleicher
Constantly Raising the Bar
Name: Alice J. Schleicher
Title: President ("But I do most everything. We all do. It's a family business.")
Company: Alice J. Schleicher Inc.; AJS Associates
Years in current position: 28
No. of units: 54. All KFCs, with some co-branded (1 KFC/Taco Bell
3 KF/A&W, 2 KFC/Long John Silver's, 1 KFC Pizza Hut); located in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama
It's all her son's fault! Twenty-eight years ago, says Alice Schleicher (pronounced "Slisher"), her then 16-year-old, Rick, came home and said, "'Mom and Dad, I saw a restaurant and I want to buy it.'" It was a KFC in Sellersburg, Indiana. "We kind of looked at each other and said, 'Okay, well, we'll buy it.'" She envisioned having four someday. So far, she's exceeded that by 50.
It took about a year, but soon mom and son were serving up the Colonel's recipes to their friends and neighbors. While they were busy in operations, her husband, Richard, kept his job with the US Army Corps of Engineers. Later, when he retired and began to help more with the family business, someone told him: "'You used to work for the general, but you haven't worked for the real general yet!'" says Alice. "To work with your family can be challenging at times. You just have to work together."
Her younger child, Kimra, still at home when the family bought the restaurant, became a lawyer and worked for the State of Indiana on EEOC cases. She's been working in the family business for about five years. "It's really good because she handles all that now," says mom Alice. "Looking back on it, my daughter tells me occasionally that I broke a lot of rules, EEOC and everything else, back then. But I said, 'Well, when it's family, everyone works. There's no excuses for that.' Everyone laughs when she tells that about me." She also has a niece, Brenda Bennison, who has worked in the business since it started and is a market coach now, overseeing several stores.
Schleicher says the only two things she knew starting out were that she had to be well-organized, and that you could never be too clean in a restaurant. "That was my thing, I was a nut on cleanliness. I sometimes felt like the workers thought I was probably overboard with that, but if people eat in your restaurant you have to be clean. I always followed the Golden Rule with customers: Treat other people like you like to be treated. You have to treat people with respect and trust."
In addition to describing herself as a disciplined person, Schleicher found her previous work experience in finance very helpful in running the business. "That gave me a good background, because I saw a lot of people that didn't make it in business. And it helped me to remember that, as the Colonel said, 'It isn't all gravy.'"
No, it's hard work. Schleicher says she spent seven days a week working in the business, taking time off only on Sunday mornings to remain as organist for her church. But she'd return to work that afternoon and evening, and didn't take a vacation for 15 years.
She grew up on a farm in the nearby New Albany area. "I think to be a good person in business, you have to have great core values, and I guess it's my upbringing. I had great parents, and I have never diverted from them. I believe in allegiance to people, and to give back to people when they help you." Her own children were involved in basketball, sports, and youth fellowship at church. "Those are where you learn your core values and discipline," she says. Today she lives on a 200-acre farm in neighboring Borden (pop. 818).
Schleicher, who has received the KFC State Sales Award and Million Dollar Store Sales Awards several times, says she's served on "every council you can be on." In 2003 and 2004 she was president of AKFCF, the Association of Kentucky Fried Chicken Franchisees. She's currently on a purchasing coop board right now that handles all five of Yum! Brands concepts. "They monitor the vendors and it's very good for us. Corporate is good too, they do QA on all of them."
Greatest challenge? I'm very conscientious. A lot of people don't think like I do, but I want to run perfect open to close, which I know is not possible. I think if you don't search for excellence you'll never get there. If you want to be average, you can be average. But I don't want to be average, I want to be at the top. You may not reach that, but you've got to be constantly raising the bar, and I think we have. We have some excellent workers out there who really care. You have to care about the customer before you can take care of them.
Management style? Hands-on. It doesn't matter how big you get, you need to be hands-on. Obviously you can't be there every day of your life. You train the people like you want them to be, but you'll always stay hands-on. If you want to know what's happening, you have to stay on top of it. People who don't stay on top of it, in the end they lose.
We know every piece of chicken we sell every day. We get one sheet of paper every day that tells about sales, LOR [loss of revenue], increases, and we get all the percentages. We track LOR, voids and deletes, and maintenance; a lot of people don't. We track everything. We also have a quarterly business meeting with all of our market coaches and a rap session every month to review our progress [Ed.: A market coach sits above the regional GMs; they have been an RGM and usually run from 4-7 stores.]
How do you find good people? It's difficult to find good employees nowadays. But they're out there, you've just got to find them. You can go to the high schools and talk to the deans and get some good employees, but I find the ones that are in band, play basketball, the busiest ones, are the better disciplined ones, and they're eager to work. Our best source is getting them through our own good employees finding them. Your employees can help you that way. Keeping your eyes open when you're out. Going to youth fellowships in churches. There have been times when a manager will see a young person in the lobby, sit down and talk, and hire them right there.
Train them? Managers train, but we also have training managers who go to stores and train. I like someone in the store doing one-on-one training. I started that way and I still think it's the best way. Just stay with that person and train them. I think that gives them the sense of help, of being there for them. They'll learn faster that way. If you do a training session and turn them loose, I just don't think that's good.
Retain them? We urge them to move up if they want to get into management. Most of our people have come from the ranks of cook or hourly person, cashier. We hire very few [management] people from without.
How close are you to actual operations? I love operations. There's nothing like operations. I love being around people. There are some really great young people out there, but we need to give them opportunities and work with them more. I like to see people excel. When they excel, you do, too.
Advice? Don't grow too fast. The toughest for me when we had two stores in Indiana was to go to Huntsville and buy four more, because that's four and a half hours away, and I had to spend time away from my family. And the stores had to be remodeled and brought up-to-date. That was hard because I was still doing payroll and paying all the bills for the first two stores. That was rough for me, to spend four days there and come home to everything. But the thing about it is I got myself organized, and you do that really fast. It's like this: I'm not going to think, I'm doing fine, I'm just going to keep it together.
At first it was a lot of planning, and I finally ended up giving up paying the bills and payroll. Those are tough to give up because you want to keep control. You want to know where every penny is going because you're responsible, and obviously you want to pay your bills. I would come back and spot check everything. I did keep my hands in it. We have a girl here in the office right now who doesn't want to give up some responsibilities, and I said, "You just absolutely have to because you can't do all of them. You're not going to stay here after hours and do someone else's work. You've got to work smarter, not harder."
How do you spend a typical day? I work all the time, come in real early. I do a lot of things locally. We do a lot of catering. I started a long time ago. I went around and spoke at all the band parents' meetings to build sales. We have an advertising agency too, but you're responsible locally. You need to get out in the community, and I think one of our strong points is that we do this everywhere. I want the managers to get into it if they can. It's tougher on the store, but you can go to a lot of different things. Our market coaches meet with the managers and go over everything, from marketing to what's going on in the community.
Favorite activity? I'm a sports lover, so I go to a lot of basketball games. We're Purdue fans, and it's not real good right now. But football has been good. I like the Titans. I have a granddaughter, 13, in Birmingham, and we drive down to see her play basketball. That's a 6-hour drive. I have dinner with her and it's a lot of fun. I love watching her. I enjoy singing and I play the piano, I do a lot of church work. I'm in missionary work at church. Anything I can fill my life with. I like doing it. I like the girls' basketball at Purdue, and I'll probably go to the Big 10 tournament in Indianapolis.
Favorite food from your restaurants? I love the A&W hamburgers, I think they're wonderful. The A&W root beer's wonderful, too.
Exercise? A lot of sit-ups, 200 a day. I also like the treadmill. My husband belongs to the Y, but if I take time out I'd rather exercise at home and watch TV when I do it.
What do you do for fun? I had a Superbowl party. That was fun. I'll be going to the KFC annual convention in Orlando. I enjoy going to dinner with my husband or friends. In the wintertime, I love watching basketball. I enjoy movies. Whatever they say, let's do it. I'm fine with it all if I can work it in. But if there's something with the business, that will have to come first.
It's good to have all this and it's fun, but you know what? You have to take care of it, no one else will. And you have to be a caring leader. When you're a franchisee you need to set the example. You have to live it and breathe it every day. You have to be the role model for all your people. I always tell people, "Your life is like a book and people are reading it every day, so be careful what they read."
How do you measure your growth? What's important to me is what our people want to do. They want to grow and do more, and you want to see them flourish. For me, I don't really need any of it, but you have to do it for your people because you want them to grow and you want their families to do well. I've accomplished mine. I only wanted four stores anyway.
I enjoy seeing them grow, and their families. I go to some of their games. I encourage that. A manager might say, "I don't have time to go to my son's basketball game." I say, "You have to do that, you have to take time out for your family. Your family is number one, and your business is number two." You have to keep everything in perspective.
You have to remember what the Colonel always said: "When you stop dreaming you stop growing, and when you stop growing you die off." You have to dream dreams for your children, and for our KFC family, which is our employees.
2006 goals? To be better than we were in 2005. We're doing very well, but I think you try every year to be better than you were the last year.
If you could change a federal law affecting franchises, what would it be, and why? Right now the ADA requirements are kind of ridiculous. Obviously you want to do everything you can for the handicapped, don't get me wrong, we always want to do that. But the problem is they change the requirements in the middle of the stream. You get this right, and then they say that's wrong.
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